By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution have played five games in 15 days in the month of May, more than one with a limited bench, and it is starting to show.
“I think one of the biggest factors tonight was fatigue,” said New England manager Steve Nicol about the Revolution’s performance against San Jose. “We could see with 25 minutes to go that guys were beginning to flag. Not just the guys we brought off, but the guys that were still on have played in all these games we’ve had.”
The Revolution have not only played a multitude of games this month, they have played many of them shorthanded, whether it be due to suspensions or injuries. On Wednesday the Revs went to New York to play the Red Bulls for a U.S. Open Cup play-in game and only had 14 available players, including two goalkeepers. The Revs have not suited up the Major League Soccer allotted number of players, 18, once during this stint of games in May, forcing a few players to fill in unfamiliar roles and play extra minutes.
“Kheli (Dube) played 90 minutes in the central midfield the other night,” said Nicol about the forward moving into the midfield on Wednesday against the Red Bulls. “It’s a different position, but it’s still a lot of running. Zack (Schilawski) played 90 minutes, as well. We have to try to be smart, but also have to try to win games and try to get points. It’s a tough combination, especially when you’re struggling for numbers.”
Dube wasn’t the only moving around for the Revs. Rookie forward and midfielder Zak Boggs was asked to step in at right back in New York, while midfielders Chris Tierney and Pat Phelan were asked to play center backs on Wednesday – Phelan also played center back on Saturday night, but Cory Gibbs was available for the Revolution, allowing Tierney to move back into the midfield.
Other players that have played out of position include left midfielder Khano Smith playing as a left back on May 8 when the Revolution lost to the Columbus Crew, 3-2. Rookie left back Set Sinovic was pushed to the right of the defense int he same game to try and fill in for the injured Kevin Alston.
All the shifting around has forced Nicol to change his favored 4-4-2 scheme to a more defense oriented 4-5-1 scheme to adapt to the ever changing personnel. And Nicol is fine with that, for now.
“We want to play with two guys up front. We want to be attacking teams,” said Nicol after the 0-0 draw with San Jose on Saturday. “Circumstances at the moment dictate that we can’t go about it the way we want to. We want to be putting teams under pressure all the time and getting forward and attacking.
“Just because of circumstances we’re lacking numbers, lacking personnel. We have to do what we have to do.”
If and when the Revolution can get healthy at least one player sees this stretch of tough games as a building block.
Pat Phelan has had to do some moving for the Revolution during the busy month of May, but he has responded well. He helped the New England backline keep a clean sheet against a strong San Jose team on Saturday.
“The good thing is people are being forced to be comfortable playing out of position, so have some flexibility when everyone’s healthy. That’s definitely a positive,” said the central midfielder.
Phelan isn’t new to the defensive role, he played defense in college for Wake Forest and was converted to a full-time midfielder when he was drafted by the Revolution.
Steve Nicol didn’t see him as a strong defender, but rather as a good holding midfielder and drafted Phelan because he displayed in his few chances in the midfield at Wake Forrest, what he could do.
“It’s kind of ironic, I played a little holding mid[fielder] as a senior in college and Stevie said had I not and been a true defender he wouldn’t have drafted me,” said Phelan. “Well here I am playing center back out of necessity.”
And he may need to keep his defending skills sharp if the Revolution can’t get healthy soon because they still have three more games left in May.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.